CIOs To VARs: We Don't Have Time To Be Cloud Experts

Midsize CIOs want to move to the cloud -- and they want solution providers to show them how, according to a panel of end-user executives at the CRN Solution Provider 500 conference in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday.

The group of four CIOs are all looking to move more applications and IT functions to the cloud as a means to free up their own resources, lower costs and be more productive, said the executives.

"I have zero right now [in the cloud], but I've done a lot of research on what my peers are doing on the government side and it's opened my eyes. I'm rethinking that it wasn't worthy of my time. I can see 50 percent [of IT in the cloud] in the next few years," said Jim Murphy, CIO of the City of Quincy, Ill.

Another panelist, Niel Nickolaisen, CIO at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, noted that senior management at his midsize organization have started to recognize the power that cloud and IT can yield throughout the organization. Successful transitions to new technology make it easier to get future projects budgeted, he said.

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"If we in IT have a track record of making really good decisions, budgets are pretty easy to come by. We've done a good enough job of improving the throughput of IT, enough that the university president asked me what I needed for IT. I gave him a number and he said, 'You need more because you'll do good with it,' " Nickolaisen said.

While it's not every IT budget that gets that carte blanche treatment, the CIOs said solution providers can be a valuable asset in getting projects completed by being true partners with the newest technology and a solution-based approach.

"I'm not looking to simply buy a blade server. I'm looking to buy a solution. I need a partner that is going to be here to educate me, to inform me. Take the time to do that. I'm not trying to buy a used car. It takes months of education to get to the point where a solution makes sense to me," said James Fielder, vice president of information systems at Farm Credit Services of Illinois.

NEXT: Cold Calling CIOs Will Never Work

Henry Chace, CIO at Burns & Levinson LLP, a Boston-based law firm, concurred that solution providers need to be patient with customers and earn their trust over time.

"It's all about the relationship. Solution providers are important to me to provide education. You're in the trenches providing solutions to customers. I appreciate the education you bring me. It makes my job easier. When we were selecting a new VoIP system, a lot of it was the integrator relationship. We weren't going for the cheapest [quote], we were choosing a long-term solution," Chace said.

If CIOs get edgy about building trust with a VAR, it's only because they've been burned in the past. Western Governors University's Nickolaisen relayed a story in which a solution provider told him it was impossible to integrate Amazon Web Services with the rest of his systems.

"They said, 'You can't do it.' Even though I know thousands of companies are putting stuff on the cloud. He was unaware of what the options were. That's somebody we don't work with anymore," Nickolaisen said. "I need to know what's possible because I don't know what's possible. I need to work with people who are at least a little on the leading edge. Not necessarily the bleeding edge, but at least the leading edge. I don't have time to be a cloud expert or a consumerization or BYOD expert. I need people more knowledgeable than me to climb with me."

The CIOs also cautioned solution providers in the audience not to waste time cold-calling them. Relationships are often formed through referrals and more informal introductions, they said.

"Ten out of 10 times, CIOs will not take a cold call. And if you expect sales that moment, it's not going to happen. We need to see value-add to build a relationship," said Farm Credit Services of Illinois' Fielder.

Added Chace: "It's not QVC. We're not looking for a pen or a dress. I get referrals from other CIOs that are using their services. It's a challenge. Is the person informative? Can I learn from them?"